“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”
Sister Patterson of South Dansville, N.Y., has expressed a desire to know how we understand this scripture, especially the eighteenth verse. We will give such views as we have, hoping they may be edifying to her, and others who desire to know the truth.
The context, and almost the whole of the epistle, is devoted to the encouragement of the persecuted and scattered saints, with instruction and solemn admonition and exhortation. As the saints were then suffering severely for the truth’s sake, the apostle gives them, and us, to understand that it is the will of God that his people shall suffer for well-doing. He says, “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” It is undoubtedly good for us to suffer chastisement for our faults, and in such a manner as the Lord in wisdom may direct, whether by his ministration of the rod, or by allowing the enemies of truth to persecute us. But good as his fatherly chastisements may be for our faults, it is far better when by his will we are enabled to bear the frowns, reproaches and cruel persecutions of our adversaries, for a strict and conscientious adherence to the truth and order of the gospel. If all manner of evil be said of us falsely for Christ’s sake, or because we honor and obey him in all things, then may we rejoice and be exceeding glad. The apostle says, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory, and of God, resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of; but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” As an encouragement to the saints thus suffering for righteousness’ sake, the text proposed for our consideration, was written. “For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust; that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh; but quickened by the spirit.”
While in this text the great doctrine of redemption, reconciliation to God, and salvation through the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ is clearly stated, a bright and glorious example is presented for the encouragement of the saints, unto whom it is given, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. Are we to be falsely accused, our names cast out as evil, our rights trampled upon, our liberties taken from us, and our very existence disputed by wicked and malicious men, and must we, when guilty of no crime, tamely submit to all this? Look at this example. Behold the beloved of the Father, the adored of all holy beings in earth and heaven, the just, the holy, the immaculate Lamb of God, suffering for sins. Ah yes, for sins! For himself bear our sins in his own body on the cross. He suffered for sins; the just for the unjust. As the holy and the just One, his Father from heaven bears record of him, the Holy Ghost as such descends from heaven upon him, the law and the prophets testify of him. The saints inspired of God bear witness saying, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” And the very court which delivered him to be crucified was constrained to acquit him of all the false and malicious charges made against him. “I find no fault at all in this just man,” said Pilate. No guile was in his mouth; yet as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth; not even to assert or plead his innocence. Yet to bring his people to God, he must suffer and die. He manifested his character as the just by his exact obedience to the just and righteous law of God, and in all the complete satisfaction rendered to all its jots and tittles; and his perfect right to that character is vindicated by his resurrection from the dead. He was put to death in the flesh; but quickened, and justified by the Spirit.
If then it was the will of God that his only begotten Son, in whom he is well pleased; so holy, so just, separate from sinners, and above all, one so much higher than the heavens, should suffer, shall we be surprised, discouraged or disheartened that it is the will of God that his people, his members, shall participate in his sufferings? Shall we desire to know him and the power of his resurrection, and object to the fellowship of his sufferings, and conformity to his death? Though holy, just and pure, it was just that he should suffer, bleed and die, to bring us to God; for all the iniquities of all his people were laid upon him, and he by relationship to them, possessed the right to redeem them, to bear their griefs, carry their sorrows, and assure the chastisement of their peace, and heal them with his stripes. As their surety, God in justice laid on him the iniquities of them all, and he in equal justice, bore them in his own body on the tree, and put away their sins by the sacrifice of himself. Those for whom he died were enemies to God by wicked works, unrighteous, ungodly and unjust, and by nature children of wrath, even as others. But God who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us with Christ. “He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification,” and we are freely justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Here the great object of his suffering is made known: it was to bring us to God. This end could not be attained in any other way. It was not possible that the blood of bulls, goats or other victims, which had been offered continually under the law should cleanse us from guilt and purge our conscience from dead works, or bring us to God. But he by his own blood has entered into the holiest of all, even unto heaven itself, having obtained eternal redemption for us. Thus has he by one offering perfected forever them that are sanctified. In the accomplishment of this, our text reminds us that he was put to death in the flesh; but quickened by the Spirit. His Spirit being the life and immortality of the Eternal God, he could not in that Spirit die, nor be recognized as under the law which we had transgressed. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death.” “For as much as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.” “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” “He was made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them that were under the law.” “He took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham” “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “But he was quickened by the Spirit.” That is, by the spirit of life and immortality, which now dwells in the hearts of his saints, of which they are born, when born by the Spirit, and by which they are sealed to the day of redemption. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:11).”
This Spirit which raised up the crucified body of Jesus from the dead is the same that we now have an earnest of, and shall quicken and animate our resurrected bodies in the world to come. It is the Spirit of life, of immortality, and is expressly called the Spirit of Christ. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” But as many as have this Spirit of God, they are the sons of God; for it is only by being born of this Spirit that our relation to God as sons is, or can be, made manifest. The apostle informs us moreover that this resurrection Spirit is the same by which he went and preached to the spirits in prison. To Abel, Enoch, Noah, and to all the Old Testament saints, patriarchs and prophets who were born of this resurrection Spirit, and through it were savingly acquainted with him, held communion with him, and by him found access to the throne of grace. This is the Spirit of which he testified by Isaiah, saying, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Those prisoners to whom he preached deliverance, he did not go to them in his fleshly body; for he had not in their day become incarnate; but he went to them in this Spirit, and by this Spirit dwelt in them. We are told that they searched diligently what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it (the spirit of Christ in them) testified beforehand of his sufferings and of the glory that should follow. Christ, by his Spirit, was in the prophets, and in the Old Testament saints, and in them preached; as instanced by Peter in the connection of our subject, in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing. Noah by this Spirit was a preacher of righteousness to the anti-diluvians. And certainly it was by this Spirit of Christ that God at sundry times and in divers manner spake to the fathers by the prophets, the same by which he has in these last times spoken to us by his Son. It is the same Spirit which raised up Christ from the dead, the same that was shed upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, and the same which (in measure) dwells in all who are born of the Spirit, in all ages. It is called, as we have seen, “The Spirit of the Lord God,” by which the head of the church is anointed, and identified as the Christ, which name and title signifies the Anointed. Christ publicly declared this scripture fulfilled in him, manifestly, or in the eyes of those whom he was addressing, when he read to them in the book of Isaiah the prophet, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound (Isaiah 61:1,2).”
The spirits in prison to whom Peter says he, by the Spirit of his resurrection, went and preached, are by Isaiah called captives, to whom he went and proclaimed liberty. Prisoners, to whom he by that Spirit went and preached the opening of the prison doors. To them Zechariah 9:9-13 says “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the fold of an ass.” “And he shall speak peace, (or preach good tidings) unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee.” These must be the prisoners to whom Christ by his resurrection Spirit went and preached deliverance. They were prisoners in a perishing condition, in a pit where there is no water, yet prisoners of hope; for God had promised them deliverance.
Every saint may find an illustration of this subject in his or her personal experience. Only look back to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Once were ye under arrest, proved guilty, condemned, sentenced and thrown in prison; the walls were strong, the bars were massive, and your escape by human power or agency, impossible. The apostle Paul most clearly attributes the quickening, enlightening and salvation of the saints to the Spirit and power of the resurrection of our Lord, as also the faith by which the saints believe on him. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:18-23).”
Carnal professors may believe according to their powers of human agencies, schools, tracts and moral suasion, etc. but God’s people believe according to the working of that mighty power of God which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and exalted him far above all heavens. Thus we see that the Spirit and power of the resurrection of Christ is the Spirit and power by which the risen and glorified Savior went and preached to Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham, who rejoiced to see his day, saw it, and were glad. And the same resurrection life, power and Spirit, is that by which Gentile sinners, embracing the saints at Ephesus, and all the faithful in Christ Jesus everywhere, are quickened and delivered from bondage, and from prison houses, and brought into the liberty of the gospel. They are raised up together with him, and made to sit together with him in those heavenly places, which are far above all principality, power, dominion or government in this world, or that which is to come. This resurrection Spirit and power is implanted in all the saints; by it they all were quickened and born; by it they are sealed to the day of the resurrection of their mortal bodies; for if it dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit, which dwelleth in you. (See Romans 8:11.) Well might Peter say, and every saint respond, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy bath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).”
March 1, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 455 - 460